It’s no secret that Detroit is a struggling city. Maintaining consistently below the 85-percent national average for high-school graduates, Detroit needs every ounce of help the community can offer. The Ilitch family knows better than most the cost of living in a community holding on to its last lifeline—and few families have done more to help. The Detroit Red Wings, being a part of the Ilitch legacy, hold a unique place in the surrounding Detroit neighborhoods.
With the purchase of the Detroit Red Wings in 1982, the late Mike Ilitch sparked a fire in the community. Since then, the Red Wings have been active ambassadors in the Detroit area – continuing Mr. Ilitch’s loving devotion to his city. Through their ongoing support of local schools, youth programs and fundraising for charitable foundations, the Red Wings bring much-needed aid to the families that have supported the team for so many years.
Red Wings Boosting Detroit Children’s Education
The Red Wings have a wide net of influence in the neighborhoods surrounding Little Caesars Arena. Understanding that positive influence is a powerful tool, the Wings focus the vast majority of their charitable efforts on Detroit’s youth and education. In 2013, the School Assembly Program was started to introduce local kids to the “sport of hockey, the importance of education and benefits of living a healthy, active lifestyle,” according to Red Wings community information. Along with players spending time with more than 50,000 kids a year, the Wings donate equipment for the school’s continuing growth of the sport and the students’ health.
Beyond stimulating hockey awareness, the Red Wings are also actively involved in Detroit’s educational advancement. Knowing Detroit is below the graduating average, and only about 13 percent of students move on to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher, the Red Wings partnered with the NHL to offer The Future Goals STEM Program. STEM is a free program for local kids aimed at preparing them with practical skills for college and career. Along with a host of free hockey training, summer camps, and reading programs, the Red Wings provide a much-needed safe environment for the children of Detroit to thrive.
Detroit Red Wings Player and Alumni Initiatives
Piggybacking on the NHL’s league-wide “Hockey is For Everyone” and “For the Kids” programs, many of the current Red Wings players also support various individual charities through the Player and Alumni Initiatives. Donating more than 900 hours collectively throughout the season with autograph signings, bicycle donations, and personal appearances, the Red Wings give tangible encouragement and memories to children and their families facing daily adversity beyond financial needs.
Nik Kronwall hosts a child affected by autism and his/her family every home game through the Autism Alliance of Michigan. Luke Glendening personally hosts a child with Down syndrome at every home game through the Down Syndrome Guild of Southeast Michigan & the Down syndrome Support Group. Jimmy Howard supports the Arthritis Foundation as well as the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids. Partnered with their other teammates, these athletes take the time to come alongside individuals in their community who are in need.
Adding to the ever-growing list of humanitarian efforts, the Red Wings’ team and staff give more than $1 million annually to cancer awareness, military support, Salvation Army donations and food services to struggling families. The average annual household income in Detroit is about $28,000, and the Red Wings have done a superb job being a positive presence to their neighbors to help provide support. The Red Wings provide a glimmer of hope in the ever-darkening tumult of city-wide decline, in hopes of resurrecting a once-great city.
DRW Community Impact
The beautiful thing about the Red Wings’ involvement in their community is that it comes with few accolades attached. In a world that is saturated with the need for exposure and recognition, professional sports teams like the Red Wings are flying under the radar. Though the DRW Community social media is sprawling with images from the Red Wings player outreach programs, there’s no news coverage, cover stories or glamorized red carpet moments. Each player is excited to be an integral part of the Detroit community with or without the flashing cameras. It’s evident from the faces of the lives they touch that each outreach and charity brings a new level of respect for the people that make Detroit great.
The Red Wings can’t fix Detroit; they can’t get rid of the unemployment rate or the struggles with education. They can, however, give hope. As a professional sports team, they hold a position of leadership in their community, especially among the children. The Detroit Red Wings, since the Ilitch family purchased the once-dead team, know what it takes to thrive in rough terrain. Making the most of the resources they’ve been given by the community that offers them so much support as a team, the Red Wings will continue to give back.
I am a Detroit Red Wings prospect journalist for Access Hockey MI covering the Grand Rapids Griffins and Toledo Walleye prospect development. Draft analyst for USHL hockey with the Muskegon Lumberjacks.